UD students create predictive models for Capital One competition

January 23, 2014 under CANR News

UD interdisciplinary team placed as finalists in a Capital One competitionAn interdisciplinary team from the University of Delaware was one of six finalists from universities across America selected to compete in the Capital One Modeling Competition held in the financial corporation’s headquarters in McLean, Va.

The final six teams were chosen from a field of 33 universities and, in addition to UD, included Ohio State University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which fielded two teams, Texas A&M University and Southern Methodist University.

The five-member UD team consisted of graduate students from three different colleges — Ruizhi Xie, a doctoral student in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics who is also a master’s degree student in statistics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and received a master’s degree in agricultural and resource economics from CANR; Zhiqi Zhang, a master’s degree student in CANR; Yue Tan and Yan Hu, both doctoral students in the Lerner College; and Du Zhang, a doctoral student in the Lerner College and a master’s degree student in the College of Engineering.

The competition required the team to use creativity and statistical problem solving skills to develop an analytic tool to uncover insights about individuals’ spending patterns. The goal was to predict how those individuals would spend at certain merchants and to develop a strategy for those merchants to assign discounts to customers who use their Capital One cards at their places of business.

Xie explained that the group was given a large amount of real transactional data of customers from 3,000 different merchants. The data included information such as the merchant ID, the date of the transaction, the amount and whether the purchase was made on-line or in the store.

From that data, Xie said the team “basically applied the optimization strategy and the modeling strategy to predict the likelihood of the future expenditures for every customer of certain merchants.”

Zhang said that she enjoyed how Capital One allowed the team to use real data to solve the problem for the competition. “Most of the time, the data from the bank is confidential. They don’t want to provide the data to personnel outside the company but because we were solving a real problem for them, they provided us with the real data.”

Xie said that the group worked on the project for about two months and once they made it to the finals, they spent two sleepless nights preparing for the project’s final presentation to the bank executives.

Zhang said the interdisciplinary aspect of the team helped them greatly as the members could each tackle individual problems on their own and also within the group during meetings, which were held twice a week. “It was very efficient working in this team. Before the meeting, everyone prepared his or her own part for the meeting and during the meeting we could exchange ideas,” Zhang said. “When we talked about our ideas, sometimes we could find that something might be wrong and the other people could give us feedback, and that was great.”

Tan said he had two favorite parts of the competition — the teamwork aspect and the fact that they got to use the real world data. “I enjoyed dealing with the real banking data. If you go into the industry, this is the kind of data you will experience every day. And the other thing was we had very good team work and I enjoyed that part, too.”

The team was introduced to the competition and advised by Titus Awokuse, chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC). Zhang said that working with Awokuse was beneficial because he has “a real direct connection to the industry field so we could get this opportunity. The manager of this project sent the invitation directly to him so we could take part in this competition.”

Xie, who has been advised by Awokuse since 2009, said he has helped her with studies and research, especially “how to identify research problems and how to tackle them using different methodologies to try and reach the conclusions. I’m very grateful to him.”

Awokuse said he thought this opportunity was a fantastic one for the students. “I think overall it was a very good experience for our students because not only did they work with data based on a complex real world problem that has potential to help a real company, they also got to interact with people in the industry.”

Awokuse continued, saying that the people at Capital One were very impressed with the students’ presentation. “They liked the models that the students developed. Their models were the best in terms of accuracy of prediction and I was very impressed with them. They did excellent work.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Pan credits UD Statistics Program for preparing him for DuPont career

March 14, 2012 under CANR News

Winning the prestigious Bolton/Carothers Innovative Science Award is an honor for any DuPont employee, especially so when it is only your fourth year on the job. Such is the case for Zaiqi Pan, who received a master’s degree from the University of Delaware Statistics Program in January 2008.

An employee of Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, Pan received the award with his fellow team members — Laura Higgins, Lindsey Flexner and Natalie Hubbard — in January 2012 for their work developing and implementing an innovative method to deploy refuge for the Pioneer genetically modified corn plant.

Pan, who received a master’s degree in statistics, credits the personal and educational support he received from the professors in the Department of Food and Resource Economics in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for not only helping him make it through to graduation, but also for starting him off on his successful career path.

When Pan started in the statistics program in 2005, a serious family situation made him question whether or not he wanted to continue with his studies. Luckily for him, the statistics faculty was there to help guide and support him through the rough patch.

“Dr. Ilvento encouraged me to stay in the program and keep connected when I had to go through such a very stressful time,” said Pan, adding that he missed a lot of class time and studies that Tom Ilvento, professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics, helped him make up.

After the difficult start, Pan said he soon began thriving in the Statistics Program, specifically in the StatLab, a statistics laboratory designed to help researchers in the use of effective and appropriate statistical techniques in different research areas. It was in the StatLab that Pan worked and formed a close friendship with Lidia Rejtö, professor of statistics in the Department of Food and Resource Economics.

That friendship was cemented, Pan said, when Rejtö spent a sabbatical at Pioneer, DuPont Agricultural Biotechnology, in 2008 and they worked together on a number of projects.

Rejtö said she enjoyed working with her former student and praised Pan for his statistical abilities. “What is very rare is that he knows not just the statistical theory but he’s able to apply the theory and to develop a program,” said Rejtö. “There are not many statisticians who can combine the two things.”

Pan, who did his undergraduate research in mechanical engineering and then went to work as a software engineer in telecommunications before joining the UD Statistics Program, praised StatLab for providing him with the skills that ultimately led him to become a successful professional.

“It’s a really hands-on experience,” said Pan, adding that it helped improve his communication and collaboration talents.

Pan explained this comes in handy working at DuPont, where “you have to have excellent communication skills to present your ideas, so your audience will be able to understand your creative solutions quickly.”

The program also helped Pan by providing him with an opportunity to intern at DuPont while still studying for his master’s degree. He worked with Bruce Stanley in the Stine-Haskell Laboratory at DuPont Crop Protection, which gave him the first-hand experience that helped him get his current job with Pioneer studying agricultural biotechnology.

Pan has helped current students in the same way that he was helped as a student, saying that he currently oversees three interns from the UD Statistics Program.

“I think that the internship just helped me a lot to prepare for my career, so now I try to actually give back my experiences to my interns,” said Pan. “We value their strength and capability and assign them real projects they can work on and build their professional skills on. We treat the internship as a learning experience so they can successfully prepare for their future career.”

About the Bolton/Carothers Innovative Science Award

The Bolton/Carothers Innovative Science Award is named after Wallace Carothers, who is credited with inventing nylon in 1938, and Elmer Bolton, who helped encourage Carothers and commercialize the product. The award recognizes creative scientific invention or discovery that results in a recently commercialized new product, technology or business generating significant revenue with the potential for sustainable earnings.

About StatLab

StatLab provides statistical consulting services to UD graduate students, faculty, staff and researchers throughout the University, as well as non-University agencies and companies. The StatLab is jointly supported by the Statistics Program of the Department of Food and Resource Economics and Research and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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